2015 Mazda CX-3 Review

The Mazda CX-3 is a thermobaric bomb - in so far as its competitors in the SUV segment are concerned. Suzuki, Holden, Subaru and Nissan must have been so thrilled to see such a strong new entrant enter the market. With the CX-3, Mazda is hoping to seduce 12,000 buyers every year away from the the S-Cross, the Trax, the XV and the Qashqai. So, prepare yourself for Mazda CX-3 small SUV seduction, or at least, docking procedures. Let’s jump into bed with the diminutive new Mazda CX-3.

Alternatively, jump to my Mazda CX-5 review here >>


The Mazda CX-3 CX-3 features all the SKYACTIV fuel-saving stuff from Mazda2, Mazda3, Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5. Mazda has done an outstanding job on technology and fuel efficiency since the Global Financial Crisis, and they’ve done it while many other leading carmakers have been asleep at the wheel.

Fuel economy of the Mazda CX-3 is excellent - officially rated at 6.1-6.7 litres/100km for the petrol and 4.8-5.1 litres/100km for the diesel. But this obsession with fuel-saving is not all good news. See my comments on i-Stop, below.

More on the official fuel numbers - and why cars don't generally manage to deliver them in this report on official fuel consumption figures >>


CX-3 features Mazda's so-called KODO ‘soul of motion’ design. Mazda says KODO promotes - quote - “a sense of oneness between the car and driver”. Like most forms of corporate masturbation, this something best left in the boardroom. Doing in public, expecting outsiders to understand, is undignified. Soul of Motion… Sense of oneness… It's just a car. Quite a nice looking one, as it happens. But still: it's just a car.

The Mazda CX-3 is what happens when you put the Mazda CX-5 in a tumble drier without reading the instructions. Or else it’s a kind of automotive attempt at fois gras, from force-feeding a Mazda2… The Mazda CX-3 is only slightly taller and longer than Mazda2. So it’s a tiny SUV.

Predictably, the Mazda CX-3 is shorter and lower than a Mazda CX-5 - but this really is splitting hairs. The dimensional differences are not that great. The biggest difference between the Mazda2, Mazda CX-3 and Mazda CX-5 is the filthy lucre you’ll need to acquire one.

If you can squeeze into a Mazda CX-3 instead of a Mazda CX-5 you’ll save between $7000 and $13,000. If you step up from a Mazda2, that will cost you between $5000 and $16,000 more. The Mazda CX-3 is pretty much line-ball on pricing against Mazda3, even though it’s actually the Mazda CX-5 that shares more common ground mechanically with the Mazda3.



In the Mazda CX-3 range there are two engines: a 2.0-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel. As you’d expect, more peak power from the petrol, but more low-rpm power from the diesel. No surprises there. A Mazda CX-3 with a 2.0-litre petrol engine is going to be quicker in a straight line than a Mazda CX-5 - even with the 2.5-litre engine. The Mazda CX-3 a better peak power-to-weight ratio. But the diesel domain is different - 56 per cent more low-rpm power for the Mazda CX-5's 2.2, in line with its additional displacement. Diesel Mazda CX-5 is clearly in front of the diesel Mazda CX-3.

If you buy the diesel Mazda CX-3 you’ll need a run on the highway every fortnight or so to prevent its exhaust particle filter from making like a 30-year smoker’s lungs. So if you are locked in to urban-only operation, buy the petrol Mazda CX-3. Otherwise, the diesel does feel stronger in the mid-rpm range.

More on petrol versus diesel here >>


Car companies make model ranges notoriously complex, so let’s crack the kooky code of what you can and can’t have in your new Mazda CX-3. There are four model grades. From poverty to opulence: Mazda CX-3 Neo, Mazda CX-3 Maxx, Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari. (Akari means ‘light’ or ‘glimmer’ in Japanese.)

There are front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive Mazda CX-3s. The fine print in the Mazda CX-3 KODO ‘Soul of Motion’ spirit of oneness corporate wanking pre-nup agreement says: No all-wheel drive in the entry-level Mazda CX-3 Neo, and no diesel in the Mazda CX-3 Neo. You can have front drive across the whole range in petrol, but front drive is only available with diesel in the Mazda CX-3 Maxx. All-wheel drive petrol is on offer in Mazda CX-3 Maxx, Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari, but all-wheel drive diesel is in Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Mazda CX-3 Akari only. The Mazda CX-3 petrol comes with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto, but the Mazda CX-3 manual is front-drive only. The Mazda CX-3 auto costs $2000 - and the Mazda CX-3 diesel is a $2400 extra. Mazda CX-3 diesels are all automatic. And the Mazda CX-3 auto is a conventional planetary gearbox - not a CVT or the even more hateful and potentially problematic dual-clutch transmission.


Nasty, bulimic, and gutted - that’s Neo. Great news if you buy fleet cars for the likes of Hertz or Avis. But not so hot if you've got taste, or style. The only residually pleasant things about the Mazda CX-3 Neo are features that would have been far more expensive to remove.

Furthermore, it’s morally outrageous, in my view, that Mazda CX-3 Neo is the only model in the range lacking a reversing camera. This turns bottom-end buyers into third-class citizens on safety. Driveway run-overs are the second most common cause of accidental death in children, after drowning in the backyard pool.

So forget about the steel wheels and the dud entertainment features on Mazda CX-3 Neo: If you have even vestigial respect for the safety of young children, step up and buy at least the Mazda CX-3 Maxx. Remember: if Mazda is The Matrix, Morpheus is wrong. Neo is not ‘the one’.


Mazda CX-3 Maxx costs only a bit more than Mazda CX-3 Neo, and it comes packed with excellent features - 16-inch alloys, plus leather on the wheel, handbrake lever and transmission selector knob. Mazda CX-3 Maxx also delivers the very cool seven-inch LCD infotainment system Mazda calls MZD Connect. And it comes with a rather nice rotating doo-hickey that drives the on-screen menus, same as the recently upgraded Mazda CX-5.

The rotating dial is kinda like BMW’s i-Drive, only Mazda’s one is based on actual logic. So that’s different. You also get two more speakers, plus sat-nav and the all-important kid-saving reversing camera. Sensational value. Maxx is certainly is the ‘sweet spot’ model in the Mazda CX-3 lineup.

MAZDA CX-3 sTouring

You get 18-inch alloys, plus all-you-can-eat LED lighting at both ends. You also get rain-sensing wipers, auto headlamps, climate air, a proximity key and, sadly, the world’s stupidest head-up display, which Mazda calls the Active Driving Display.

Mazda's Active Driving Display projects digital speed and turn-by-turn navigation instructions onto a flimsy little piece of plastic above the instruments - and it comes with an even more stupid instrument cluster. There’s no analogue speedo on Mazda CX-3 sTouring, and instead you get the world’s hugest tacho.

These instruments are a bit ‘Star Trek’, but practically, they’re a monumental ‘fail’. Here, a bunch of engineers just got too clever for their own good. It seems to me the driver should be able to turn off the active driving display, and optionally revert to a conventional instrument cluster with an analogue speedo. Instead, you get this half-baked sci-fi travesty, which I was sincerely hoping would not metastasise into the Mazda CX-3. Unfortunately, Mazda CX-3 sTouring has delivered the Leyland P76 of instrument clusters...


On the three models so far - Mazda CX-3 Neo, Mazda CX-3 Maxx and Mazda CX-3 sTouring - you can add a safety pack for about $1000. You get blind spot monitoring (which is redundant if you just learn how to adjust the rear-vision mirrors). It also includes rear cross-traffic alert (which is redundant if you just reverse-in to 90-degree parking spaces). And there’s autonomous braking up to 30km/h (which is redundant if you just pay attention - there’s a revolutionary concept).


The range-topping Mazda CX-3 Akari gets all of that above safety stuff standard, plus an electric sunroof, leather and suede combo seats and a lane-departure warning system (which is redundant if you just manage not to fall asleep while you drive).



I struggle to mount a compelling case for value with both the safety pack and the Mazda CX-3 Akari generally.

Mazda CX-3 Neo is too nasty, as discussed. The safety pack’s just redundant if you can actually drive, Mazda CX-3 sTouring has third-rate (but upmarket looking) instruments, and Mazda CX-3 Akari is the Joan Rivers of CX-3s - it’s spent too much, having far too much work done.

So, the choice just got a lot easier.


Mazda doesn’t seem to think many buyers will go for Mazda CX-3 Akari. Of the 1000 CX-3s Mazda hopes to sell each month in Australia, only about 50 will be the Mazda CX-3 Akari. More than half the sales will be the Mazda CX-3 Maxx, and about 150 people will find another four-and-a-half grand for the Mazda CX-3 sTouring, and inflict upon themselves that awful Active Driving Display. Hopefully, only rental car companies will buy the Mazda CX-3 Neo. Or, better still, nobody.

Frankly, if you could get a Mazda CX-3 Maxx with a proximity key, life would be almost perfect.


Remember also that the Mazda CX-3 comes with that hateful i-Stop feature that shuts the engine down and re-starts it automatically in traffic. I don’t mind the feature - it’s the functionality that shits me. It’s philosophically reprehensible that you cannot turn i-Stop off to the extent that it remains off until you decide you want it back on.

If you buy the car, you want to decide how it operates. At least, up to a point. Right? In my view, i-Stop saves bugger-all fuel, it’s annoying, and it’s certainly unrefined, so I want it off. Permanently.

Mazda only allows you to turn i-Stop off temporarily. Every time you get back in the car, i-Stops is reanimated. I call it ‘spirit of oneness interruptus’. Doing engineering this way is arrogant, offensive and disrespectful to the subset of people who just want it off - permanently. Here’s a car company doing overwhelmingly excellent work, and yet handing potential customers who would otherwise love that vehicle unreservedly, a solid-gold reason to buy something else. I don’t get that.


Mazda has done an excellent job on the CX-3’s servicing costs. Service interval is 12 months - or every 10,000km, whichever comes first. So if you’re that textbook average Australian driver whose car does 15,000 kilometres a year, you’ll be up for a service every eight months or so. And that’s going to knock you back between $280 and $307 for the petrol CX-3 and between $319 and $387 for the diesel. That’s pretty cheap. Keeping a CX-3 on the road is hardly going to break the bank.

More on servicing and warranty preservation here >>


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The Mazda CX-3 is not perfect, and while it's my job to jab its flaws mercilessly with a pointy stick (and also having a bit of fun with the ludicrous marketing concepts getting awfully lost in translation) you should be aware that this is a very impressive compact SUV. Whatever other vehicles you might be considering purchasing, make sure you test drive the Mazda CX-3.

Mazda is way ahead of most competing brands, and if I were you, I would be looking very hard at the all-wheel-drive, petrol Mazda CX-3 Maxx. That vehicle is just sensational value, for under $30,000 - and it has proper, intuitively understood instruments, the MZD Connect seven-inch screen, plus a potentially life-saving reversing camera.